|Pilobolus by John Kane|
Pilobolus Returns to the American Dance Festival
In theory I am in love with Pilobolus. The company was founded on the belief that each individual is as important as the next and together they could make something larger than themselves while still maintaining a personal voice. To this day collective creative process and collaboration remain at their core, even as they enter their 41st performing season. Unfortunately, I was anything but in love with Pilobolus on stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center on July 5, 2012.
The almost two and a half hour long program consisted of five works, three created in 2012 (two of these commissioned by ADF) and two older works. The variety of repertory shown was impressive, as were the visual images created by the talented dancers. Besides Azimuth and Transformation, however, Pilobolus failed to capture my imagination.
Opening the show was Azimuth, an ADF commissioned collaboration with award winning master juggler, Michael Moschen. As the red curtain rose, a black and white film of cells dividing, fungi growing and amoebas shifting started to play on a little screen. As the film ended, lights faded up on angled bodies, large silver hoops and arcs, and brightly colored balls, creating what looked like an abstract sculpture of the solar system. The six dancers brought the props to life as they juggled balls, partnered the silver hoops like ballroom dance partners and balanced the silver arcs on their shoulders, thighs, hips and feet. Toward the end of the piece a male and female broke out in a lovely duet downstage. The two slid, spun and supported each other in lifts, all the while holding a ball between them with various body parts, like penguin parents trying to keep their egg off the cold ice. The music by Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yann Tiersen and Rene Aubry created an eerie circus-like atmosphere that was delightful yet mysterious.
Skyscrapers started off with a drawn out film where all we saw and heard was the view from the front of what one can imagine is a moped or motorcycle as the driver careens down a European city. Like most of Pilobolus’ work in the program (both film and choreography) the idea is interesting, but somehow it never evolves to where it can hold my attention. The small screen disappeared and the cyc was suddenly lit up with a picture of a bright red building. Three couples took turns sashaying in different ballroom dance styles across the backstage to music by one of their latest collaborators, Ok Go. Each time the background picture would change to another color of the rainbow, the dancers costumes of suits and dresses would change to match. Skyscrapers was fast paced, contemporary and cute, but technically awkward.
The first half closed with a repertory work, Sweet Purgatory, which was commissioned for ADF in 1991. A soloist shuffled in jagged little lines across the stage, one arm bent over her face, the other reaching for the sky, like a leaf that was just barely hanging onto a branch in the wind. Five other dancers shuffled onstage joining the soloist in the journey from purgatory to hell and back again. The beautiful weight sharing and slow, almost magical lifts that Pilobolus is known for were showcased wonderfully in this work. At times the dancers melted into each other for support while at others they threw themselves to the ground and pushed each other away in a fight against something larger than the six of them.
The Transformation, an adorable play of scale and puppetry where a giant transforms a little girl into a dog, opened up the second half. Clever, humorous and to the point, The Transformation was a breath of fresh air in the program.
Automaton closed the program with a look at the human within the machine. Like Skyscrapers and Sweet Purgatory, this piece started off promising. The six dancers, dressed in layers of gray, beige and white pants and shirts were accompanied onstage by three large mirrors. A fourth mirror was attached at a forty-five degree angle to the back wall so the audience was able to view the mirrored world at multiple angles. With bent elbows and twitching heads, the dancers mimicked machines and robots – coming together to create images with their bodies such as a car or assembly line. The visual appeal started to fade, however, as the choreography stayed stagnant. Even when the mood changed and the dancers began to shed their clothes and partner each other in a sensual and soft manner in what I imagine was a look at the human being amongst all the machinery, I was not invested. It seemed fluffy and self-indulgent.
I left the concert feeling very torn about my experience. Pilobolus had sown many creative seeds within the pieces of the program, but as the choreography never felt fully developed, so too, the creative ideas never came to their full blossom.
The American Dance Festival continues with Ragamala at the Reynolds Industries Theater (July 10-12) and Vertigo Dance Company at Durham Performing Arts Center (July 13-14).
Copyright Michele Trumble 2012